COMMONWEALTH CANNOT JUST ROLL THROUGH STOP SIGN PROSECUTIONS
The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Karash, No. 263 WDA 2017 (November 16, 2017), holding that in order to convict defendant of a Stop Sign violation, the Commonwealth is obligated to present, in its case-in-chief, evidence as to whether a police officer directed the defendant to proceed through the stop sign.
Karash was convicted by the trial court after the trial court refused to recognize the Commonwealth’s obligation to present evidence negating the exception written into the Duties at Stop Signs statute.
The statute related to Duties at Stop Sign states that “[e]xcept when directed to proceed by a police officer or appropriately attired persons authorized to direct, control or regulate traffic, every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line or, if no stop line is present, before entering a crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if no crosswalk is present, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a clear view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering.”
The Superior Court summarized the issue as whether the emphasized prefatory language operates as a proviso that supplies a defense that must be introduced and proven by Appellant, or whether it constitutes an element of the offense that must be proven by the Commonwealth. Relying on precedent established by Commonwealth v. Bannellis, 682 A.2d 383 (Pa.Super. 1996) over twenty years prior, the Superior Court concluded that the language ‘except when directed to proceed by a police officer’ is an integral part of the offense and, therefore, the Commonwealth must produce evidence negating the exception as part of its burden of proof.
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